During initial conversations with a potential customer, your most important job is to find out:

A. Does this prospect really need my offering?
B. Does this prospect have money to buy my offering?
C. How would this prospect spend that money?

If you don't get answers to A and B early in the sales cycle, you run the risk of spending your valuable time developing an opportunity that's actually a dead end. And if you don't get an answer to C, the opportunity will probably get bogged down before the money can be spent.

To discover this essential information, start conversations that allow the prospect to "hold forth" on how the prospect's firm does business. Here are 15 ways to get such conversations up and rolling, based upon material the sales uber-guru Barry Rhein sent me a while back:

Assess Needs

  • What can you tell me about your organization... and yourself?
  • What do you like about what you're currently doing?
  • What don't you like about your current situation?
  • What would you like to be enhanced or improved?
  • What other options are you looking at?

Budget Allocations

  • What can you tell me about your priorities?
  • What prompted you to start this project now?
  • How do projects like this usually get funded?
  • How do you handle budget considerations?
  • How much support does this have at the executive level?

Confirm the Buying Process

  • How will you be evaluating different options?
  • What can you tell me about your decision-making process?
  • How will the funding for the project be cost justified?
  • What can you tell me about the people involved in the process?
  • What obstacles might get in the way of moving this forward?

Here's how to use these conversation starters:

  1. Cut and paste them into a document.
  2. Add enough space between them so that you can take notes.
  3. Introduce the conversation starters early in the discussion.
  4. As you get answers, fill the blank spaces with your notes.

When there are no more blank spaces, you'll not be certain that you're not wasting your time and you'll know how to turn the opportunity into a win as quickly as possible.

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